Ms. Inge-Maj Lassfolk-Tsontos has worked for more than ten years as the Honorary Consul of Finland in Chania, Crete. The position is rather an honorary one than a day job. Nevertheless, she has had her hands full, since Chania is quite a popular tourist destination among Finns.
Inge-Maj travelled to Greece for the first time in 1974 as a tourist. She also participated in a demonstration against the junta in Rhodes. Two years later, she visited Chania for holidays and met her husband-to-be during that trip.
Inge-Maj travelled between her then home country Sweden and Crete for a few years before she moved entirely to Greece. She thought it would be necessary to learn the local language before moving. She started her life in Greece as a travel guide, for what she had a two months’ training course in Cyprus.
As she settled in Chania, she got married and had two kids. She spent ten years home with the children and after that started to work as a dental assistant and hygienist, what she is educated for.
For many years, Inge-Maj served as the Chairperson of Finns in Chania. “I was enhancing the Finnish culture by organizing Christmas parties and telling about the traditional Carelian pies”, this Swedish-speaking Finnish Inge-Maj laughs. During that time, they shared a Europe house together with 22 other countries, used to arrange festivals there and share knowledge about Lapland.
The first of her six years in Chania, she was the only Finn living there. Later on, more Finns have moved there. Now there are 30 adults plus kids living in Chania and in the nearby town of Rethymnon about 10–15 Finnish residents. Some have ended up there for relationships and found their place in the local working life. Inge-Maj praises the Finns as hard-working and industrious people, who were not scared off even by the financial crisis.
Inge-Maj, a Swedish speaking Finn who was born in Helsinki, continued to share the cultural heritage of Finland Swedes to her children and grandchildren. They all have learned Finnish traditions at home and when travelling to Finland. Nevertheless, they have studied at Swedish school in order to learn the language.
Ambassador Ole Norrback (in Athens during 2003–2007) asked the Finns in Chania for a female nominee for an Honorary Consul who speaks English, Greek, Swedish and Finnish. Inge-Maj tried to find a proper person, but everyone noticed she would be perfect for the task herself. Even though it is an honorary task instead of a paid job, she decided to quit her career as a dental hygienist. Her work in the family’s construction business has continued side by side with the tasks of the Honorary Consul. Therefore, the Finnish Honorary Consulate is located in their offices, downstairs of their home.
Inge-Maj tells that people appreciate having service in their native language when distressed. Afterwards some of them thank her by sending a Christmas card. “When you get help, it creates a feeling of safety”, she describes her work with tourists.
The travel agencies have even a legal responsibility to assist their clients in problematic situations. The services of the Honorary Consul are needed, when tourists who travel independently need interpretation assistance at hospital or police station. After the season, some clients of the travel agencies might stay in local hospitals and Inge-Maj takes care that everyone gets back to the home country when the time comes.
According to the Finnish legislation, an Honorary Consul cannot issue new passports, but the clients need to turn to the Embassy of Finland in Athens. However, the Honorary Consul has the right to authenticate a person’s signature, verify a true copy and testify that a person is alive, by a notary certificate.
Inge-Maj welcomes all travelling Finns to Crete and advices them: “Buy a travel insurance, take good care of your bank card and enjoy the sea, culture and the delicious food.” After the end of the tourist season Inge-Maj still has a few unfortunate cases of sexual abuse in her mind and she would like to remind tourists never to accept drinks from strangers and avoid walking alone in the night time.
Text and Photos: Eili Andersson
Translation: Nina-Maria Heinonen